The rise of right-wing politics is a response to the unmet promises of the welfare state

Perry Kinkaide: The failed welfare state is empowering the rightThe rise in extreme right-wing politics is a reaction to the post-Second World War globalization of the welfare state. This shift represents a growing disillusionment with the promises of the welfare state, which was expanded to counter the allure of communism. Nation-states took on roles traditionally managed by families, communities, and religious institutions but without the corresponding accountability.

What are the welfare state’s shortcomings?

  1. Unaffordability: The welfare state has proven to be financially unsustainable. There are limits to how much taxation and debt a nation can endure. As public debts rise and tax burdens become heavier, the financial strain on people and the economies becomes evident. People are increasingly aware that the welfare state cannot endlessly provide without consequence.
  2. Complicity: The welfare state requires a passive, compliant citizenry – people willing to tolerate waiting … and waiting. However, people are not naive; they recognize when the system takes more than it gives. This growing awareness has led to a backlash; people feel they are losing their agency and independence in exchange for government support.
  3. Failing Systems: The welfare state is failing to deliver on its promises. Standards of care and service are deteriorating, exacerbated by an aging population and a declining birth rate.
  4. Fragile Future: The baby boom generation’s retirement has placed immense pressure on health and social services, while low birth rates mean fewer young people are available to support these systems. Priority has also shifted away from youth and education, further jeopardizing the future.
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In response to these shortcomings, many have turned to right-wing policies emphasizing individualism, personal responsibility, and family and community-based support. This shift represents a desire to return to a system where individuals and smaller community structures play a more significant role in addressing social needs.

However, this rightward shift has created a vacuum, increasingly filled by “woke” ideologies on the far left. These ideologies often emphasize identity politics, social justice, and cultural changes, which can be polarizing and divisive.

The current political landscape is characterized by a lack of moderates. The extreme positions on both the left and right dominate the discourse, leaving little room for centrist views. This polarization means that practical, balanced solutions are often overlooked in favour of more ideologically driven agendas.

If we are to address the failings of the welfare state and the polarizing tendencies of both extreme right-wing and left-wing ideologies, there is a need for a new moderate approach. This approach should combine the strengths of both sides while avoiding their extremes.

A moderate approach would recognize the importance of social supports but strive to make them financially sustainable. This could involve reforming welfare programs to be more efficient and targeted, reducing waste, and ensuring that those in “genuine” need receive help.

Encouraging individual responsibility and community involvement is crucial, but this must be done without dismantling essential social safety nets. Programs need to prioritize empowering people to take control of their lives and contribute to their communities.

Both the welfare state and community-based support systems must be accountable and transparent. This is a significant challenge: re-engaging citizens in decision-making processes and establishing oversight to ensure services effectively meet people’s needs. We must stop fostering dependency and instead promote initiative.

Bridging the gap between the extremes requires promoting dialogue and understanding. Encouraging conversations between different ideological groups can help find common ground and foster co-operation.

The broad sweep to the right in global politics is a response to the unmet promises of the welfare state. This shift highlights the need for a new, balanced approach that combines the strengths of both personal individualism and public social support. By promoting sustainable social programs, empowering individuals, ensuring accountability, and fostering dialogue, it is possible to create a political environment that avoids the extremes and addresses the needs of disadvantaged people.

The first challenge is finding and supporting moderate voices – leaders who can navigate this complex landscape and offer practical, effective solutions.

Dr. Perry Kinkaide is an accomplished manager and visionary, a change agent with passion and perspective. Since retiring in 2001, Perry has remained active as an advisor and director for several diverse public and private organizations. He is the founder (2005) and Past President of the Alberta Council of Technologies Society. His pre-retirement positions include Canadian Knowledge Management Practice Leader and Managing Partner for KPMG Consulting in Edmonton (1987-2001) and  Assistant Deputy Minister, Director of Privatization and Funding Reform, Edmonton Regional Director and Regional Coordinator of Services for the Handicapped with the Alberta Government (1972-1986). He received his BA from Colgate University in 1964, MSc in 1967 and PhD from the University of Alberta in 1972 in Brain Research.

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